Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What it means when she (or he) hangs up on you

I had a bitch of a girlfriend whose "arguing style" included a most annoying trait. When she was unable to handle hearing an alternative point of view on something, she would quickly escalate to a rage-state and eventually just hang up the phone (or abruptly, without warning, log off of chat). This was such a frequent behavior, even in cases of relatively minor disagreements, that it got me thinking about what might be behind it.

Mind you, I'm no psychologist. But I think I have it figured out.

Consider the consequences of a hang-up for the hanger-upper. The act of hanging up is a control act. The hanger-upper asserts immediate control over the conversation and the other person. This is important. Your partner may not admit to being a control freak. But this is a telltale clue.

Another important benefit for the hanger-upper is that disconnecting automatically, instantaneously, removes a painful negative stimulus. From an operant conditioning point of view, this is a self-reinforcing behavior.

So it's a double-whammy for the hanger-upper. By hanging up, she achieves a feeling of power while simultaneously eliminating a painful negative stimulus. What could be better?

But what about the hanger-uppee? What are the consequences for the person who's being hung up on?

Well of course, first of all you feel like you've been distanced. It's an awful silence on the other end of the line.

But mostly it's a feeling of abandonment. It's certainly an act of abandonment by the person who hangs up.

What are the emotions felt by someone who is abandoned by a loved one?
  • Powerlessness: You are unable, even in theory, to continue the conversation with the other person. You have no control at all over your situation. You've been robbed of any power, any influence.
  • Hopelessness: There's no hope of winning the argument or bringing the other person back. They've already left.
  • Loneliness: You have gone from a two-person interaction to one person. You're by yourself.
In short, your partner has punished you by making you impotent -- powerless. At the same time, she (or he) has reclaimed power and obtained a strong (if short-lived) "high" from the act of hanging up. At the very moment of disconnecting, the hanger-upper feels a rush, a hugely satisfying feeling of empowerment. This satisfaction is very short-lived, though, like the buzz from your first morning cigaret. In fact, if the person in question has any kind of conscience at all, it's followed some time later (maybe minutes or hours, but more likely days) by feelings of guilt. The person will come to you the next day and try to make up. She will try to explain her behavior as an "overreaction" or an impulse, or unintentional, or a momentary lapse of judgment. It was none of those things. In fact, when you hear that kind of explanation, you are not hearing an apology (or even an explanation), but an excuse. It means "I know what I did was wrong, but it felt good at the time and I'll do it again in the future."

I dug deeper into my girl's background, and here's what I found.

At a formative age (adolescent), her father left her mother. The father now dates one of the daughter's former high school teachers. Father and daughter occasionally talk on the phone, but daughter now hates father (even today, at age 32), and she frequently ends phone conversations by hanging up on her father.

My (ex)girlfriend loves her mom, defends her as a saint. She hates her dad, castigates him as a selfish, cruel person.

It all makes sense now. When her father left her mother, my girlfriend's dad was engaging in an act of abandonment -- a type of hanging up. My girlfriend was young at the time and keenly felt the sense of powerlessness imposed on her and her mother. They were powerless to bring the man back. Powerless even to plead for reconsideration. Powerless in the most fundamental sense of not having the ability (even in theory) to be heard.

My girlfriend learned from this experience, at an early age, that the way to gain power over a man -- and punish him for his insolence and disrespect for you (because after all, when you feel powerless and disrespected, you seek power and respect constantly, you make a fetish out of it) -- is to hang up on him. Abandon him. The way you were abandoned.

I feel sorry for someone like that. They're truly damaged goods. And they're going to go through life imposing their own psychological damage on others.

I feel pity. But not forgiveness. People who hang up on me might deserve all the pity in the world, but you know what? Rude assholes can go fvck themselves, I don't care how good a blowjob they give.


  1. Just need a change of perspective. Something I was told when I was young that always made this much simpler for me - The person who hangs up has lost the argument. It's like making a personal insult when you can't win the debate.

    A couple exes of mine would hang-up if it was over-the-phone and if in-person would blurt an abrupt "Stop, you're making my brain hurt!" The equivalent to covering her ears and singing.

    Bad signs if you're an analytical type. It means your arguments will never end in reason, unless it's the other person's reasoning.

  2. Pitying someone is also a way to achieve a feeling of power.

  3. does your ex-girlfriend read this blog? just curious if this is an act of aggression or just yourself venting.

  4. If I were in your place, if she made a habit of it, I would have started hanging up on her before she got the opportunity.

    I definitely would be curious to see how she would have reacted to that!

  5. Emotional conversations are about just that: emotion, not logic. If you were arguing while she was expressing, then you weren't listening, you were attacking her so she took a drastic measure to make that stop.

    Just a guess. You sound like an ass to me though.

    1. No he really doesnt sound like an asshole. Hanging up before you vet through talking is degrading. Perhaps one shouldnt answer the phone when that hanger upper calls and maybe theyll get that message.

    2. No you don't sound like an arsehole to me. I have read this post of yours on several occasions when my partner hangs up on me and a lot of what you say makes sense. I've done the calling back, the texting, the crying and I have somehow found the strength - through therapy - to deal with it differently. It's taken me a while and gradual changes to handle it differently now. I used to feel so upset when hung up on and i guess i still do, but quite frankly i think it is immature and boring. One trick pony thing I now think. Thanks for your insightful posting. It has certainly helped me :-)

  6. I agree with the 11:02 comment above. Often times, hanging up is not an offensive maneuver, but a defensive one.

    When someone is quick to offer an 'alternative point of view', it is easily seen as distracting, attacking, refuting, defending, or just plain not listening. Sometimes the only thing to do is to stop the conversation completely.

    I'd suggest waiting until you're actually asked for an alternative point of view before offering it unsolicited.

  7. What the 11:02 post above says is basically what just destroyed my relationship. Whenever we had a disagreement she would be expressive and I would be analytical and we got absolutely nowhere. She wouldn't hang up on me, she'd just give me the could shoulder and give answers like "ok" and "fine", making it impossible to talk at all.

  8. Speaking as a woman who has done this, I'm sorry but I'm going to have to agree with the three comments above me.

    Men argue with logical (most, but certainly not all lol) and women argue with emotion (most, not all). A lot of times women want an emotional outlet and who better to find that in than someone they care for? Whether it be a friend, family member, or a boyfriend/fiance/husband/lover...

    I've hung up on a guy I'm talking to because he simply wasn't listening to me. I wasn't trying to be an ass (though I'm sure I was) but I finally pleaded to drop the conversation and it didn't stop! So I would sign off or hang out (or grow silent).

    If I'm venting I don't want the logistics of what I'm doing... often times emotions ARE NOT logical at all, so why would you try to tell me this? While hanging up may be an insult to you, telling me I'm wrong for the way I've thought or reacted to something that I've obviously grown passionate about it a slap to the face as well.

    I'm not saying you're wrong on everything in this blog, some of it can be see as quite on par... these women sound like they have been hurt and are damaged goods. That are they are just immature and not ready for any relationship. Take it for what it is and leave it behind you.

  9. (sorry for the typos I was in a hurry :P)

  10. I disagree with my Anonymous brethren above. They would have us believe that compromise is only a one-way street, where the "logical" are expected to make allowances for the "emotional." So what if your partner is being too logical over any given issue? Both parties must make the painful choice to compromise and try to see things from each others' perspectives. Hanging up *is* just a childish power play and shows an inability to compromise.

  11. Many thanks to the lady who commented (and everyone else also), but you know what? Anyone who is so rude as to hang up on another person should go f*ck themselves. I don't care what their excuse is. Why are you defending that behavior? WTF does "emotion" vs. "logic" have to do with good manners? Are you kidding me?

    1. this is the best reply i have seen on this subject on any forum. Kudos to Hart.

  12. Looks like you've had an assortment of women as girlfriends! Nice experience and nice posts! They (the exes )deserve a big thanks.

  13. i agree, hanging up is completely immature and rude. if you have been in a long term relationship, there is no need for this childish nonsense. if at this point, the two parties can not properly communicate and resolve their differences then they should not be together..PERIOD. People who only use hanging up as an arsenal have issue. I know its hard, but do not call back. if they do not call back, they move on.

  14. When a person attempts to have an argument while sitting beside the child, no matter the circumstances: Hang up the telephone. To argue near a child is disrespectful and immature when it occurs near children. People, check your egos because it's not about pride, respect or anything other than a person who feels inadequate. You will not receive parity by anger. Yes, this is the perspective of a woman.

  15. In my opinion, healthy adults have no control or power over another adult that is capable of making their own decisions. Healthy, mature adults have control/power over themselves via free will. And any adult who abruptly hangs up a phone has temporarily lost control of themselves.

    The behavior is pretty par for the course with children and adolescents. Ideally, pro social communication skills are mastered by the time we reach adulthood.

    You can stop taking calls altogether or gently, but firmly, remind others that manners along with calm, clear communication is central to understanding and that nothing is gained by simply hanging up. Everyone benefits from this - children, adolescents and adults alike.

  16. My father gave me up for adoption. I now am in my 50s and came to him at his request. This was to help him get better after open heart surgery. Something happened and I don't know what. But for years when I call to wish him .... He hangs up the phone like I don't exist. My mother says he is so narcissistic that he has no clue. He will die a lonely old man. All I wanted was his love. I was the only one in the family to be productive, have children and grandchildren. It's very sad. He is involved with the Masonic lodge and I have been told that they encourage this abandonment of their children. What gives?


  17. my child's father hangs up on me and threatens to leave after every f'kn disagreement/debate/ argument. My own father hasn't been in my life for over 13 years and yes it can make you feel somewhat abandoned but it doesn't have to be the baggage you carry into your relationships. If you had respect for your spouse and truly loved them you wouldn't be so full of spite to treat them as if they don't matter .If you want to act immature and selfish that's exactly what will happen your going to end up alone. No one deserves to be treated that way in a relationship. Ive put up with soooo much drama and b.s and I still listen to what he has too say .Theres no reason excuse to act hat way..Usually only cheaters and or liars behave in a defensive negative rude manner ...if the spouse is disrespectfull. Let them take that shit to someone less deserving of a respectfull union. Who want a grown ass person to act like a child throwing a tantrum....one foot in the door and another foot in their ass.....

  18. My ex hanged up on me everytime I called him. Its not like I wanted to ask why he dissappeared on me. I realised him hanging up he just wanted to hurt me more coz I never asked him why he left nor begged. All I was doing was calling him to bring back something he left with. Hanging up must have given him control of the relationship still, might be he expected me to beg and beg but I had chosen to let him enjoy his exit with no questions asked.
    Him doing so did hurt me but I never asked him why he hung up. I left him alone though the healing took a while for me after he did so. I got over it. No resentment towards him. I'm sure he needed something from his behaviour just I didn't see the need to keep calling him, I let go and em more happy than I was with him. I thank him for hanging up, coz if he never did I would hve taken him back if he returned.

  19. Hanging up on someone is a choice.
    How YOU handle it is what's important. Follow your gut and stand your ground. The FIRST time. Consistency is key.

  20. Perhaps she got so upset with what you were saying, that the option of hanging up was much more appealing to her than saying something equally vile to you. Also I have tried to end an argument, with comments of this is going no where lets take a break and continue this conversation when we are both calm, and have the other person not let go of it, keep railing or shouting his opinion at me. To me this was verbal abuse, ignoring my requests to calm things down or to change the subject. So I hung up, usually regretting it almost instantly and calling back but yes. Sometimes things need a reboot so to speak. Perhaps people need to take a look at HOW they argue, are you just flinging a string of abusive insults that the other person is forced to listen to because of some cultural obligation to not hang up the phone? are you listening to her? or is it just a one sided slam fest. You can't expect a person to listen to you abuse them verbally, not giving them a chance to defend or interject. The only option sometimes is to end the conversation. If a person is irrationally screaming at me and won't calm down no matter what I try to do or say, I will leave the room and let them regain some kind of control over themselves. Verbal abuse is almost as bad as physical abuse. What you are saying is akin to telling an abused woman "Oh so he broke your nose well just stand there until he's done with the rest of your face! Don't you know its not polite to leave a room while another person is beating on you?"

  21. Very good analysis...I think you are absolutely right on target...Thank you for trying to find a reasonable answer toward the problem...I work in Health care and interact with an associate who does this same (hanging up)...I think the same thing you do; weird as all get out...She has a screwball somewhere in her life, and I don't want to be hit by it...

  22. I recently developed the "strategy" of getting off the phone before any wonkiness by [by husband] occurs. Circumvent it ahead of time. It does disable any reasonableness to the relationship, so I've crafted my alternate way out. Yes, it, the marriage, is doomed to failure by his wonkiness, this constant hanging up nonsense. Nothing has ever been discussed and resolved in this disastrous 3.5 years. The immaturity, in this 45-year-old husband seems never to "mature" in spite of a considerable promotion at work, his having 2 kids (+a similarly immature ex wife), having gone through several anger management sets of counseling and education. I guess people never see the error of their ways [even when they claim they do], and get real or normal, or mature or respectful, if they show disrespect more than a few times. This particular guy has gone into a marriage counselor and assertively proclaimed, "Well, I'm abusive," I guess telling us all that he is proud of being abusive. Okay! Nothing's changed since then, a year ago. The counselor promptly let him know he's not welcome back in her office. And he "felt bad," he said. Folks seem so out to lunch, though it makes sense they'd need to deny their behavior, it's gotta be a whole lot of constant shame felt internally. Yes, I pity the defensiveness and shame, not to mention the constant anger. Who feels good being angry? (He also never did this while we dated for 2 years, to trick me. Yuck!)

  23. Mr Hart...Thank you. My friend (non-sexual), like "best" friends or "sisters"...alike...we have had years of conversations...mainly about her problems with her "real" sisters...I have encouraged and argued also with her to help her to come to conclusions about her own issues with them or with her own self. However, at times, she chooses to "Hang up on me"...yes, I've felt the hurt or the abandonment and have readily accepted her calls again and again...after 44 years of friendship and "Christian" fellowship. Yes, I have told her that what she is doing is abusive, childish, and controlling.

    Today again, she's hung up on me. I put her number on "voice-mail" this time...she's left about four messages so far and I sent her a "text"....Hanging up on your friend is a form of playing games and bullying, as childish. (I am saddened by her behavior...this way for years.)

    When I was a child, two sisters, who lived across the street, would fight with each other then they would stick me in between their fight and would bully me to pick a side and I wouldn't then I would be "CAST OUT" for about 1-3 months at a time by them...eventually...as I would watch them play outside, while sitting alone on my porch...they would then decide to call me to come and play with them...this did happen to me with them "often". I chose the "friendships" even after numerous abandonments...also by own family, new friends and ex's...does this make me an enabler, poor at relationships, a complete sucker...or all of the above?

    To me, a friend is a friend...and you don't hang up on them...you listen and you share your concerns...whether one
    likes your opinion or not...and no matter how angry one gets with you there is always room for RESPECT and LISTENING FROM BOTH ENDS...(I do have a hard time with the "I don't want to talk about it parts"...) Thank you. jp4peace

  24. I completely agree with this man. I am a woman and my boyfriend does this to me on a regular basis. We have so many arguments simply because he will never resolve anything and never hears me out. He blows up at me on the phone, interrupts, talks over me, hangs up, and ignores me for hours. Or the worst is he keeps calling to yell things then hangs up without giving me any opportunity to defend myself. I call them "drive bys". This man who wrote this is completely right, it is a horrible form of psychological and mental anguish the abuser is putting you through because they cannot stand to hear your point of view. I am dealing with this right now by texting my points instead to get out what I need to express and taking time apart from him in hopes he will understand how irrational he is being. As a woman, I am actually more logical and he is the emotional reactor who uses silent treatment and petty trivial childish hang ups to handle arguments. So you cannot base everything on gender. A man or a woman can be guilty of this and it usually stems from their childhood - he never had parents discipline him much so he was allowed to do whatever he wanted, he never had to talk through anything or be accountable, so it mainfests in his relationships. His past relationship lasted for years with zero communication, they never even said one word to each other because he told me he did not want to communicate anymore. It's a pattern, look out for it before you end up in a vicious power struggle. It's lonely!

  25. And P.S. I completely disagree with these comments about it being a slam fest. Sometimes we are talking through our feelings and the other person is yelling insults and hanging up. Hanging up and cutting someone off is the most vicious form of abuse and no one should justify it.